Themeology of Sundance 2011

Sundance is all about making a statement. From films with titles like Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same to serious documentaries like Reagan, the festival seeks to spark conversation among its wider audiences. With that in mind, I have taken the liberty of identifying a number of themes that ran throughout the movies that I have seen over the course of this week.

The war in Afghanistan– (Hell and Back AgainLittle BirdsBenevides Born) These three films, among others at the festival addressed the impact that war has on a society, both abroad and at home. They exposed the harsh realities of war beyond what is commonly seen in the media. The reoccurring theme of Afghanistan that people are discontent and wish to see change.

LGBT– (Pariah, Gun Hill Road) There was a significant emphasis on characters with different sexual orientations at Sundance. Probably due to the fact the people are more open to seeing LGBT people in real life, directors were able to tell their stories and share their sufferings in some of the best films that I saw over the course of the week. Perhaps moving away from theWill and Grace portrayal of the LGBT community will aid in gaining and understanding and respect from speculative publics.

Being “stuck”– (Knuckle, Gun Hill Road, Vampire, Pariah, Animals Distract Me, Benevides Born, Hell and Back Again, Little Birds) This isn’t a new theme by any means, but it continues to resonate with audiences. Young characters striving for a lifestyle beyond what is attainable for most members of their community. I especially enjoyed that the films at the festival were willing to move away from the Cinderella format, and instead, characters hit the wall and were not able to rebound.

Coming of age– (Living for 32, Barber of Birmingham, Knuckle, Gun Hill Road, Pariah, Benevides Born, Little Birds, Hell and Back Again)Again, not necessarily a surprising theme but one that always seems to tug at the heartstrings of audiences. It’s fair to say that everyone has experienced some sort of “coming of age” event. When they recognize a struggle that they can relate to, a film becomes personal. One interesting note about the 2011 festival though, most of the coming of age types were girls, or highly feminized.

What are the conclusions that we can draw from these constant reoccurrences? First, they reflect public opinion and the desire for change. They are issues that need to be addressed on either a small or a large scale. The conversations sparked by these films often lead to discussions of possible solutions. Second, common theme indicates common conflict and let’s be serious here, film is all about conflict. When an audience is familiar with a conflict, it allows the storyteller to go more in-depth. So long as the endings are not trite or too fairytale-esque, audiences seem to receive films in a positive light.

-Sarah Dodge


About The Spirit of Sundance

A group of Elon University students experiencing the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
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